Tell us about yourself – who are you and what do you do?

My name is Mandisa Zitha. I am the Festival Director for Encounters South African International Documentary Festival.

I returned to Encounters in 2018 after a stint away due to the demands of raising young children. I spent the time developing myself in other areas, first at UCT then Wesgro, and gained new skills in the areas of development and fundraising, and strategic management. I am proud to have recently produced the 21st edition of Encounters in June with the backing of a great team and board members. We had approximately 10,000 festival-goers in both Johannesburg and Cape Town with a great line up of films from local and international talent.

Its always assuring to receive positive feedback from audiences about the programme but the icing on the cake is when the media reviews local documentaries for a much wider audience. Programming can be a hit or miss as you don’t know what audiences will be drawn to, but our team focuses on diversity and a vast range of themes.

It’s a privilege to watch a huge number of documentaries for the work I do. I am a UCT film and media graduate and for my final year project I wrote a radio script. However, a course in documentary exposed me to the genre, and an opportune meeting with the co-founders of Encounters soon after graduating led me to the Festival.

What are you currently up to? Are there any exciting projects ongoing?

It’s a challenge curating this Festival, we are spoiled for choice with international and African films, even so I have to think deeply about the tone of the genre globally and how best we can present that. There are always the big award-winning films to consider, but Encounters is focused on finding the unusual, the hidden gems.  

Last November I was privileged to attend IDFA where I was invited to take part in a conversation of programmers, from around the world, about diversity, or the lack of it in programming festivals which, hopefully, will result in increased opportunities for films from Africa.

However, what is of great concern is the apparent decreasing number of South African documentaries being completed. My observation from attending international festivals is that the funding environment is becoming very competitive, due the increase in innovating filmmaking from the rest of the global south.

So, I am very focused on interventions at developmental level to increase access for emerging talent with sufficient funds to complete and deliver distinctive films that will be noticed and that can travel. Encounters has close relationships with industry bodies so I look forward leveraging that to offer more support to South African filmmakers and providing a springboard for African documentaries to the international market

What’s your best project/work to date?

I was very excited a few years back to have secured funding from the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund to run a Lab. We developed and produced six documentaries under the theme of My Hood. It’s the kind of project where you feel like you are really making a difference as you can see tangible results in the form of interesting films by new and diverse voices.

Who or what inspires you?

There is a lot passion in this industry and I am constantly amazed at how filmmakers are driven despite the challenges they face. Visiting international guests believe we have an endless well of stories, from student films to those by more experienced filmmakers, our stories are very distinct and offer a unique perspective on the world.

When you’re not working, what do you like to do?

I spend a lot my time with my two daughters going to the beach, hiking, visiting markets…anything outdoors. We also visit museums and galleries and go to concerts. I love to expose them to the arts just as I was in my youth

Finally, what tips or advice could you give to other documentary creatives, just starting out or to the most experienced creatives needing a bit of encouragement?

I would advise that you consume the genre, watch films ‘til they literally come out your ears! Come to Encounters, watch all the films (we have…), meet and greet our guest filmmakers, expand your scope and knowledge. Emerging filmmakers have great stories but need to find mentors to advise on other aspects of the craft. Those opportunities are at Encounters.